Making Networking for Women Leaders Work

A strong network is essential for success, especially nowadays as people change jobs more often, companies evolve faster, and job security is a distant memory. Most executives will testify that you can’t get to their level without a strong network and strong sponsors; still, for the majority of the women with whom we work, active networking does not happen enough.

Women are so busy “getting it done” that it is hard to make time for networking. Many networking events are so big and seem like “nice to have,” not essential. While women know it’s important, networking is not urgent on a typical day (and by the time it is, it’s too late). The time to build relationships is before you need to start a job search or hire new talent. Putting off networking limits opportunities both internally and externally.

A quiet, key goal of our Women Leaders Thrive practice is to facilitate regional networking among talented leaders across companies and industries. We created forums where women have a rare opportunity to lift their heads, learn skills, deepen self-knowledge, and gain connections. Our goal is to create deeper ties, help women support each other’s success, and invest in a diverse leadership pipeline. Here are the 5 approaches that we find effective:

  1. Create small cohorts of leaders in similar responsibilities, but different experiences. Relationship building happens more naturally in a smaller group than in a larger networking event. Connecting people across industries adds to the collective wisdom and contributes to a psychologically safe environment. That safety is essential if you want women to share and commit to their career plans and aspirations. Women of Influence alumni point to the value of sharing challenges and encouraging each other. Large events have their place, though it’s the smaller cohorts that encourage disclosure and commitment to pursuing one’s aspirations.
  2. Get real work done. Enable people to get to know each other and build relationships around something they care about -- e.g., volunteering, professional association, or (in our case) a forum that is focused on learning. Alumnae from our Women of Influence cohorts appreciated the expansion of their networks with other women leaders who share an interest in growth and development as leaders.
  3. Create a space where people can breathe and think strategically about their careers. In our programs, we bring in interesting speakers and educational content, incorporate fun exercises, and give time for a healthy, “non-working” lunch and conversation. As one leader said, “It’s such a nice change to sit and have time to reflect.” Room to breathe means room to think and connect.
  4. Allow connections to strengthen naturally over time. In our workshops, we notice that, over time, people open up more, listen deeply to each other’s questions and comments, and gain a baseline understanding of each other that leads to more meaningful, open conversations.
  5. Create a way to stay connected and build new connections. Our “Women of Influence Reunions” keep conversations going and grow our client’s networks beyond their initial cohort.

With the elements above in place, women can be confident their time and energy are well invested. And when women leaders dedicate space to think strategically about their careers and invest time in networking to build and sustain genuine, mutually beneficial relationships, their organizations are gaining ground on the executive leadership gender gap.

If you’re interested in learning more about the next Thrive Leadership Women of Influence program this fall in the Philadelphia area, contact us